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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy. Although the book series is extremely popular with tweens and even younger elementary-school readers, the movie may be too dark and violent for even mature tween readers. The violence includes deaths by stabbing, shooting, animal attacks, and poison, as well as torture, threats, and explosions. The language includes "s--t," and one bleeped out use of "f--k" and other expletives. There's more romance in Catching Fire as Katniss struggles with her feelings for both Peeta and Gale. Alcohol is present in a few scenes (Katniss takes a drink), and there are references to painkiller addicts. Katniss is a flawed but excellent role model for teen girls, and the movie offers many discussion points about politics, war, feminism, and materialism.
What's the story?
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE picks up shortly after The Hunger Games ends: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is experiencing post-traumatic stress as she tries to go back to a semi-normal life in District 12. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is still hurt by the fact Katniss was only pretending to be in love with him during the Games. But when menacing President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss at home, she threatens the well-being of everyone she loves, including best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), if she doesn't make everyone believe she and Peeta are deliriously in love during a Victory Tour of the Districts. Increasingly threatened by Katniss' popularity among the starving masses, Snow eventually decides to make the 75th Annual Hunger Games a unique one -- with the 24 Tributes selected among the living victors. Sent once again to the Arena, Katniss and Peeta must make alliances with an eclectic group of former Hunger Games winners to stay alive.
Is it any good?
This sequel manages to be gripping and emotional, despite the need for more exposition and new characters. Middle installments of trilogies are typically the toughest to master, and with the exception of The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers and a few others, often the least interesting; luckily for fans of the international publishing phenomenon, that's not the case here. Director Francis Lawrence ably picks up the helm from Gary Ross and keeps a strong balance between the character development, the socio-political overtones (more of Sutherland's brilliantly acted cold-hearted oligarch!), and the violent action of the Arena. Luckily for him, his star isn't just another pretty Hollywood starlet, she's an Academy Award winner who can carry a franchise with both vulnerability and strength. And Lawrence's off-screen friendship with Hutcherson shines through in their on-screen chemistry, which is as sweet and gentle as author Suzanne Collins describes.
The film is incredibly faithful to the story, although purists may quibble about some missing moments in District 12 before Katniss and Peeta head to the Quarter Quell. The story provides more of the triangle between Katniss and her two love interests -- budding revolutionary best friend Gale and the steadfastly kind and charming Peeta. The returning ensemble is all back and clearly relishing their characters, like Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, and Elizabeth Banks, as a talk show host, handler, and stylist, respectively. The new additions to the supporting cast also include veteran actors Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as fellow Tributes Beetee and Wiress and Philip Seymour Hoffman as new Gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee, who are all fabulous in their secondary roles. Jena Malone is perfectly cast as the confrontational and angry young Tribute Johanna Mason, and Sam Claflin may not have the American accent down, but he's still fine as the hot and brave Finnick Odair. Ultimately Catching Fire is Katniss' story, and the audience will once again be grateful that Lawrence is so effortlessly natural as one of young adult literature's most memorable heroines.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the political messages in Catching Fire. Why are Katniss and Peeta so horrified when they go on the tour of the Districts? How is President Snow a totalitarian ruler? What does the movie say about political systems where a tiny few have all the wealth?
How does Katniss compare to other female protagonists in young adult books and movies? What are her views on love, marriage, and kids, and how are they tied to the unimaginably dire circumstances she endures?
Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it? Do you think the book and the movie are appropriate for different age-groups?
- In theaters: November 22, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: March 7, 2014
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
- Director: Francis Lawrence
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book characters, Great girl role models
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 146 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
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